Posts Tagged ‘Problem Solving’

Idea

Getting an idea (problem) to customers (solution) is a complex cycle no matter what organisation you work in, but constantly monitoring and optimising the whole cycle will make it as smooth and efficient as possible improving the ROI for product iterations.

Irrelevant of the size of the problem that you’re looking to solve, it’s still important to firstly understand the value of the problem – why does it need to be discussed any further let alone hit the development teams for rough sizing? Unless you have data or a solid rationale to specify the size of the problem or opportunity, it simply shouldn’t go any further than the analysis stage. Not only is the value crucial for prioritisation, but it’s also important for the development team to know the benefit of working on the PBI (Product Backlog Item).

Once you’re confident the problem is worth solving, then it’s time to set the priority by weighing up the opportunity with all other PBIs and having a gut feel on size is totally acceptable at this stage to avoid draining the development team time with every single idea and talking about work, rather than progressing with solving high priority problems.

Before the feature touches a team for grooming it’s important for Product, Delivery and Technical to collaborate on how much resource gets assigned to solving the problem or phase eg. One team, two teams or all teams – depending on the option could impact in flight features and efficiency, so it’s important to collaborate over different delivery scenarios before rushing into a decision just because a deadline looms, as getting more teams onto a problem to solve could make the delivery go slower and impact efficiency unnecessarily.

Getting a PBI / Feature from idea to a ‘ready‘ state for development stage takes a significant amount of grooming which involves the Product Owner, Development Team and Technical Architect all of which is vital to ensure that when development starts that the right problem is going to get solved in the right way, rather than anyone wondering during development what problem they’re solving, what the value is or having to do loads of rework further down the line. This is one of most important parts of the delivery phases with the key elements being:

  • Solid ‘As a’, ‘I want’, ‘So that’ description which should give a crystal clear indication of who wants what and why
  • ‘Value’ of the problem
  • Acceptance Criteria of the requirement
  • Background / context which could be a link to Confluence which shows ‘As Is’ and ‘To Be’ flows / UX and can be used as part of a kick of for the feature to the development team
  • Any dependencies
  • Notes from the team working with the Technical Architect on any up front technical designs

When the PBI is in a ‘Ready’ state and prioritised high enough, then it goes into development whether that’s in a Sprint if it’s Scrum or on a Kanban board. The ‘in development’ phase gives you the most opportunity to improve efficiency / throughput and the Scrum Master is key to help the team achieve this (continuous improvements) whether it’s helping unblock impediments, coordinate with other development product lines or suggesting ways of getting PBIs over the line. There’s no harm also in hiring a Scrum Master for a team using Kanban, as ultimately the Scrum Master role is to help / support the team progress and the things which a Scrum Master would help out a team for Scrum would also apply to Kanban eg. Chasing down impediments, coordinating dependencies, removing blockers and working with the Product Owner on improving the quality of the Product Backlog.

Delivery

Once the ‘Definition of Done‘ (DoD) has been met including demo approved, it’s time to ship the product iteration to customers. Believe it or not, after all the work that happens prior to this, the release process is the part that could get stuck for weeks depending on the architecture and how the release process is monitored for Scrum (as often it’s outside of the DoD), but again this is where the Scrum Master can really step in to add value coordinating with release managers, but also suggesting release, environment and pipeline improvements to the development team and PO by reviewing delivery KPIs. For Kanban, tracking the release process is much easier as every process up to live gets incorporated on the Kanban board as there’s no set time boundary aka sprint.

Lastly it’s time to go back to step 1 (the analysis phase) and iterating based on how customers use the latest product iteration.

Like I said at the start, the Idea to Customer cycle is complex and involves a lot of people, but monitoring, testing out other agile frameworks and optimising the phases within the whole cycle will yield in a higher & quality throughput of features getting delivered to customers, so it’s important that the people responsible for Product, Delivery and Technical collaborate closely having this high up on their agenda and regularly communicate to the business the fantastic efficiency improvements which have happened recently and what’s up next to optimise.

Problem solving image

There will never be a lack of problems to solve when it comes to product development, but handling the relentless amount of ideas and identifying the right ones to focus on can be tricky if a robust process to prioritise and track all of these is not in place.

There are many approaches you can take to handle problems and prioritisation, some product management videos I’ve seen describe the product owner to spend most of their time saying ‘NO’ to stakeholders which I tend to disagree with, because technically all problems can be solved and an idea is never a bad idea, but perhaps it just can’t be solved right now due to higher priority work, so a response to show appreciation for raising the idea / problem and that it’ll go through the prioritisation process is a more appropriate response. Some also handle prioritisation and requests by who shouts and flaps the loudest which is equally not the way to go about effective backlog prioritisation.

Two things you need in order to prioritise effectively 1. Value and 2. Effort to work out the projected ROI. Before you even spend effort discussing how much effort a problem will take to solve, the first thing which should be asked when someone approaches you with a problem, idea or bug is “what is the value?”. As a result of this, you may get:

  • A sheepish response where they don’t know, so they’ll have to go and find out (in some cases resulting in the problem being so small it’s not worth solving it, so you don’t get to hear about the problem anymore)
  • Value provided is minimal (relative to everything else in the backlog)
  • A fluffy response eg. It’ll increase traffic, it’ll increase retention rates etc, with no given metric
  • A significant problem / idea to solve which could deliver vast amounts of incremental revenue, benefits to customers or savings through efficiencies which should be fast tracked through the effort sizing and prioritisation process

Another question which can be asked to identify value is “what happens if we don’t do it for 3 months, 6 months or never” which will aid prioritisation further.

At your disposal you should have a data visualisation tool to easily view trend data and access KPIs for your products and features which is another way of identifying value for yourself, but ensuring that you and your Scrum teams are working to solve the highest value problems is fundamental in achieving a healthy ROI and successful product, so by asking just some simple questions up front will make your journey a lot more palatable.